Yemen's embattled leader takes emergency powers
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 4:35 PM
SANAA, Yemen -- Struggling to hold power after many of his allies abandoned him, Yemen's longtime leader on Wednesday escalated his confrontation with a rapidly expanding uprising and took on emergency powers that give him a freer hand to quell protests.
A legislature full of his supporters granted President Ali Abdullah Saleh's request for a 30-day state of emergency, which suspends the constitution, bars protests and gives security forces far-reaching powers of arrest.
The opposition called the vote illegal and vowed to press on with its campaign to topple Saleh's regime.
The move underlined Saleh's desperation in the face of month-old protests that have attracted tens of thousands across his impoverished nation in the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. This week, Saleh's regime was hit by a wave of defections by military commanders, ruling party members and others, swelling the ranks of the opposition and leaving the president isolated.
Saleh has repeatedly sought to appease the protesters but to no avail.
Over the past month, he has offered not to run again when his current term ends in 2013, then offered this week to step down by the end of this year and open a dialogue with the leaders of the demonstrators.
At the same time, he has stepped up the use of violence. His security forces shot dead more than 40 demonstrators in Sanaa on Friday, but the bloodshed only escalated the defections and hardened the protesters' rejection of anything but his immediate departure.
The state of emergency declaration appeared to signal that Saleh intends to dig in and try to crush his opponents. The decree allows media censorship, gives wide powers to censor mail, tap phone lines, search homes and arrest and detain suspects without judicial process.
Al-Jazeera said Yemeni authorities closed its office in Sanaa on Wednesday after 20 armed men ransacked the bureau the day before.
Over his 32 years in power, Saleh has masterfully played a balance act to keep just enough goodwill from the country's powerful tribes, factions within his inner circle and the military to keep the country together.
A tribal society, Yemen has at the best of times looked like a nation about to come unglued, with the authority of the central government growing steadily weaker outside Sanaa, the capital, allowing local chieftains to run provincial areas as they please.
In the latest evidence of the fast deteriorating security in the country, residents of Shabwa province on Wednesday seized the weapons and vehicles of paramilitary forces deployed at checkpoints in 13 of the province's 17 districts, according to security officials.